Body image and the female swimmer: muscularity but in moderation

Howells, Karen and Grogan, Sarah (2012). Body image and the female swimmer: muscularity but in moderation. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 4(1) pp. 98–116.



The purpose of this study was to investigate embodiment in a cohort of female swimmers. Relatively limited consideration has been given to body image in female swimmers and this study endeavoured to provide the first formal comparative insight into embodiment in adolescent swimmers and adult swimmers. Nineteen Scottish female swimmers took part in focus groups and interviews where they discussed issues related to body image; eight were adolescent swimmers aged between 14 and 18 years and 11 were adult swimmers aged between 19 and 56 years. The focus groups and interviews were analysed using inductive thematic analysis. The analysis identified three body image themes associated with swimming: the impact of swimming on the body – muscularity but in moderation, body confidence as transient: age matters, and the influence of others. Swimmers developed muscular bodies that were considered contrary to the cultural thin ideal. There were clear differences between the different age groups in respect of the transiency of body satisfaction whereby adult swimmers transferred their swimming confidence into their social worlds but this was not the case for adolescent swimmers. Implications of the findings for coaches working with young female swimmers are discussed.

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